of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Naien smiled as she sat beneath the large elm tree near the edge of the village clearing. She reached her fore-hoof out to Ellie Sharptooth, Byarl's mate, and after Ellie had taken it and spent a moment calming her mind, Naien spoke. *I am so glad that none of you are angry with me... Or with Aijou.*
Ellie opened her eyes, and grinned. "Of course not, you big silly! We all had a long talk about it after you told us your story. We all agreed that while what you did wasn't very nice, it was the only thing you could do. And, in the end, you and your mate made it better again - and that's what really counts!"
*Thank you,* Naien replied, smiling.
"You're very welcome, dear. Now - Nona and I worked very hard to make a special surprise for you to wear when your mate comes. Come along! We want you to try it out!" Ellie said, and hopped to her feet, calling to Nona and a few of the other females of the village. Though it took a bit of doing, eventually, the males were all shooed away for a few minutes. Nona then brought out their surprise - a broad, woven band, about eight inches wide and twenty-one feet long, identical to the horse-garment Naien was wearing, save that this one was made of woven strips of green-dyed leather - the same leather used in mustie clothes.
Naien smiled as she took the garment, and quietly untied her own prior to removing it. Ellie and the other musties did not know, of course, that horses did not wear leather. To them, wearing the skin of the dead was a terrible thing. Yet, she knew that to refuse would only have been insulting. It was as Amani said - the future of the horse-clans lay with the carnivores of the east. And, as such, they would have to learn to adapt to their ways. This gift was given in friendship, and was meant to show that she, Naien, had been accepted by the musties of Laughing Wood. And Naien, herself, was happy to know that this was so.
Once Naien was dressed again, the males were allowed to come out, and all the village gathered 'round Naien again to look at her new clothes. All the musties thought it was a perfect gift, and looked marvelous on her. They complimented Ellie and Nona on their work, and a few of the males even jokingly suggested that it would be interesting if the female musties of the village would dress similarly. This, naturally, brought all the males to giggling, and all the females to playfully scolding - the garb of the horse-clans was quite revealing by the standards of the musties. Even Naien nickered in amusement at the thought of the little tiny musties dressed in the garb of the horse-clans.
Suddenly, Naien turned her head, looking off to the north. Her eyes went wide, and she whinnied with joy, her body trembling with excitement.
"What is it? What's the matter?" Nona asked.
Ellie grinned. "I think her mate is near - and that means Byarl and the others probably aren't too far behind."
Naien nodded vigorously, her mane flying, then gazed off into the forest to the north. She was so excited, she began to tap her fore-hooves together in anticipation, and literally began to hop up and down with excitement. The sight of this sent the musties to giggling again. The simple sight of the giant, ebon mare literally bouncing with excitement was quite hilarious to the musties - though a few of the younger, un-mated males goggled at the bouncing of Naien's large breasts.
Soon, the sounds of rapidly-approaching djuducu-birds could be heard, and the musties set up a loud ululation of joy. Moments later, eight of Xaa's vassals rode into the camp, led by Lord Jamat. They carried Byarl and the eight musties of the village behind them on their birds. Amani trotted beside the bird that carried Ayori, grinning broadly. "Hoyo, all!" Byarl called, waving.
But before the musties could reply, Aijou caught up, running towards Naien. She dashed towards him, and they embraced as they met at the edge of the village. The musties of the village, who had heard Naien's story and talked about it among themselves for weeks, broke into ululations of celebration as Naien and Aijou hugged and nuzzled each other, whinnying with joy. The musties found it very sad that Naien and Aijou had loved each other for many years, been mates for many years, yet had never touched. To see them embrace and nuzzle each other was just as joyful a sight to the musties as it was to embrace their own returning warriors and mates.
Byarl grinned as he tossed off his helmet, then hugged and nuzzled Ellie for a long moment. It was chaos in the village for many minutes, and the mus-warriors sitting atop their war-birds grinned at the sight of the celebrating musties - the mus were, by far, more reserved and stoic than the musties, and such vocal and chaotic celebrations were unknown to them.
Finally, Byarl shouted, holding up a paw for silence. When he finally had it, he turned to the warriors who had brought them home, and bowed. "I thank you, Lord Jamat, and all the rest of you. We will see you again, soon." The other musties of the village bowed likewise, smiling broadly - though most did not speak the language of the mus as Byarl did, it was obvious what was meant.
"You are most welcome, Great Chief Byarl," Jamat replied with a smile, bowing from his saddle, then turned his bird around. "Hup!" he called, and the mus warriors rode away at a trot.
"Alright, everyone!" Byarl called as the mus rode out of the village. "I know you all want to greet everyone, but first, there's something just as important. I've asked Ayori and Amani to show Naien and Aijou to a quiet little spot by the river, and leave them alone for awhile. I want everyone to stay away from the river from now until dark, and leave them in peace for a bit. No hunting near the river for the rest of today, okay?"
"But why, chief?" Tottie asked, scratching his head. Tottie, Nona's son, was only twelve, and the older musties grinned and giggled.
"Well, I'm sure your mother will take time later to explain it all to you, but in short, these two haven't even been able to touch in all the years they've been mates," Byarl replied, jerking a thumb at Naien and Aijou, who still hugged and nuzzled each other. "I'm sure that in a little while, they'll be wanting to do a bit more than just hug each other," Byarl said, and grinned.
All the musties of the village
burst out into whooping laughter. Even Amani, who stood nearby
Ayori, whinnied with laughter. For their part, however, Naien and
Aijou, looming over the laughing musties like two enormous ebon
mountains, could only hang their heads down a bit in the
horse-equivalent of a blush, and grin broadly.
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